England's early World Cup exit hits UK pub operators

LONDON - England's dismal World Cup campaign in Brazil was doubly disappointing for Britain's pub operators, with the team's early exit prompting football fans to stay at home to watch the rest of the tournament, leading pub chains said on Thursday.

Mitchells & Butlers, whose chains include All Bar One and Harvester, blamed the football showpiece for keeping sales flat at its pubs open for more than a year in its financial third quarter. It said average food spending had fallen in a "weak" eating and drinking market in May and June.

The firm said demand, particularly for food, had picked up again since.

Had England made it past the World Cup's first-round group stage, that would have been worth 175 million pounds to Britain's bars, pubs and restaurants, according to a report by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR).

Instead, supermarkets are likely to have benefited as fans chose to buy their food and drink and watch games at home.

Rival pub firm Marston's, which has a 1,800-strong estate of managed, franchised and leased pubs and is also known for beer brands such as Pedigree and Hobgoblin, said the tournament had failed to ignite sales in its third quarter.

"The impact of the World Cup was broadly neutral, with higher drinks sales offset by weaker food performance in our pubs, and strong sales growth in the off-trade," the firm said, adding it was confident of meeting full-year expectations.

Underlying sales at its self-managed pub restaurants were up 4.1 per cent in the first 41 weeks of the year, indicating a slowdown from growth of 5.7 per cent posted at the half-year, due both to a tough comparative period and difficult trading for food outlets during the World Cup.

Sales at its more drink-led managed, franchised and tenanted pubs and leased division were both up.

Smaller London and southeast-focused pubs operator and brewer Fuller, Smith & Turner made no mention of the World Cup in its update but said trading had started strongly across all of its divisions in its first quarter.